Henry Charlton Bastian was one of the leading biologists of the nineteenth century. A professor of pathological anatomy of University College London, Dr. Bastian was a fellow of the Royal Society and of the Linnean Society. He was the author of several books and numerous scientific publications in the 1860s and 1870s. Contemporary thinkers listed him along with Tyndall, Pasteur, and Darwin as one of the most important living men of science. Yet today he is unheard of. His name appears in no major textbooks nor in scholarly reviews of nineteenth-century science. His works are not quoted, and his reputation, once mighty and proud, has since the turn of the twentieth century simply evaporated.
Bastian’s case is fascinating in part because the period of the height of the controversy in which he was engaged—the 1870s—was also a period of fierce debate about one of the most important scientific revolutions in biology: Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Many eminent biologists, geologists, and philosophers were opposed to Darwin’s ideas, but Bastian was not among them. He believed in the concepts put forward in the Origin of Species and was a supporter of Darwin and British biologist T. H. Huxley. The controversy that embroiled his career, and for a while that of his famous contemporary John Tyndall, was not evolution but a much older issue: the spontaneous generation of life.